Remember the nights before the first day of school when your excitement—or nerves—wouldn’t let you sleep. You checked and re-checked the contents in your backpack to make sure you assembled everything you needed: Planner, notebooks, binders, paper, pencils, pens, highlighters. I always made sure I was physically ready, but I remained mentally unprepared. My emotions felt high and I didn’t know what to expect of the new year. Of course, when I got to school and saw my friends, the comfort and familiarity set in.
What did I have to be scared of?
I cannot say the same for college. I embarked on an adventure where no one was holding my hand. My friends disappeared and so did the familiarity. The University of Florida seemed huge. I had to ride the city bus, find my classrooms and on top of it all, I felt alone. The complete change in environment revived an old frenemy known as anxiety, except this time she grew bigger and badder. She didn’t know why she appeared, except to make me feel inadequate. I let myself listen and told myself I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to sleep or eat. I cried more than I’ve ever cried before. I felt too burdensome and dramatic, asking myself, “Why are you this way?” and “Why can’t you get over it?”
I wanted the source of my anxiety to disappear because once the source was gone, my anxiety would be gone, right? I concluded the source: college. In one particular meltdown, I wept to my mom about dropping out of school. I told her it was too much for me. I put myself in a scary and different situation—to add, my parents pay thousands of dollars in the hope of my success. Under immense pressure, the air felt harder to breathe. My mom didn’t know how to help me, but she refused to let me drop out. She gave me an ultimatum: Get a full-time job or go to school. Although this ultimatum didn’t ease my anxiety, I felt unready for a full-time job. I continued with school, but my anxiety remained with me.
I experienced my first panic attack on the third day of school after merely reading a syllabus for an online class.
Crying and hyperventilating, I struggled to compose my thoughts. My mom got me an appointment with the Counseling and Wellness Center, a free counseling service offered to university students. I saw a counselor that day. It felt great to release my fears and worries to someone who knew how to help me. The counselor acted supportive, engaging, and caring. I found myself on the right track to putting myself at ease.
See, my flight reaction enabled my anxiety—it fed off of my fear. In order to conquer it, I must face it. I went to counseling for the rest of the semester and also took a Stress and Anxiety Management course. My counseling experience helped me understand my behavior. I experienced generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), ongoing anxiety typically lasting six months. During this time I hyper-focused on negative thoughts, events, and failure. I submerged myself in irrational fears and I couldn’t quite reach the why. After counseling, I left with skills on how to handle my anxiety. I confronted my irrational thoughts instead of hiding from them. By challenging my perceptions, I managed to bring my anxiety back down to the ground. My brain became my friend again.
I felt grateful for my supportive family and because I get to attend a college where each student’s success is valued. People care. I no longer felt alone, and as the semester continued I felt like an integral part of the college. Even though I hesitated when it came to new experiences (introvert for life), I encouraged myself to attend an English society meeting. If I didn’t seek counseling, I don’t think I would ever push my comfort limits.
I learned not to allow fear to hold you back from your immense potential.
For college students dealing with a disorder, or you just need someone to talk to, reach out to your college’s counseling center or a trusted advisor. It makes all the difference in your college experience.